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Firehouse In Merced
By Mike Long

Quenching the thirst for good beer in California's Central Valley became much easier in April of 2004 with the opening of the Firehouse brewery and restaurant. With veteran brewer Mike Hall, formerly of Oakdale Brewing Company, at the helm, Firehouse is off to a great start. On a seven-barrel JV Northwest system, Mike and Assistant Brewer Matt McDougall, also of Oakdale Brewing fame, are producing five brewery standards and a bimonthly special.

They have the prerequisite light lager, El Bombero ("The Fireman"), a very clean Mexican lager and the current best-seller. Also on the list is Golden Bobcat Wheat, a traditional German hefeweizen, and the second best-seller, Fire Engine Red, a very drinkable, balanced amber/red ale.

Surprisingly, the pale is not a pale at all but a nicely balanced floral West Coast IPA with great thirst-quenching appeal. Consider a pint with the Honey Creole fish and chips created by Chef Uriel Aguilar.

My personal favorite was the Black Rascal Stout, a 4.6% Irish dry stout with oatmeal aspirations. This should pair wonderfully with the brewpub's locally famous ale-marinated prime rib. It's a great session stout — flavorful, robust and extremely well balanced. Mike's current special was his first attempt at a pilsner, and what an attempt it is — an imperial Czech pils called "Czech Out Time." I personally loved the "Poached Killer Shrimp," black tiger prawns sautéed in garlic, shallots, tomatoes, herbs and India Pale Ale, served with crostini bread. Of course, I had to have a pint of Mike's IPA to go with it.

With a seating capacity of 183, there should not be a problem when the newest campus of the University of California opens in Merced in 2006. The Firehouse is not just a brewpub; there is also a nightclub on the premises from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday where you can dance and mingle with fellow revelers while drinking one of Mike's beers. Owner Jason Vogel has done a great job of putting together a superb combination of brewer and chef, and he has created an atmosphere to make this a must-stop for any true beerophile traveling the Central Valley.

560 W. 18th St.
Merced, CA 95340


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